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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China Gains in U.S. Eyes, and India Feels Slights

November 26, 2009

New York Times
November 25, 2009

NEW DELHI -- The statement, on its surface,
seemed like any other bland missive released at
the end of a polite visit by a head of state. It
was put out by the United States and China after
President Obama’s visit there, and said that the
two countries would “work together to promote
peace, stability and development" in South Asia.

But on the eve of a visit by the Indian prime
minister, Manmohan Singh, to the White House,
where on Tuesday he will be the guest of honor at
Mr. Obama’s first state dinner, the words rank as
one of several perceived slights that have
dampened hopes for a new chapter in the sometimes
rocky relationship between the United States and India.

The vague statement has been widely interpreted
here as an invitation to China to meddle in
India’s backyard, and prompted howls of dismay across the political spectrum.

"How can you make China responsible for keeping
peace in South Asia?" said Prem Shankar Jha, a
newspaper and magazine columnist, channeling the
prevailing sentiment among New Delhi’s political
analysts. "China has done nothing in South Asia
except to play a destructive role here," he
continued, referring to China’s close ties to India’s archrival, Pakistan.

Beyond the surface issues, however, lies a deeper
tension, in which India sees a warmer
relationship between Washington and Beijing under
the Obama administration as a threat to its own
rise as a global power, and worries that India is
being relegated to a regional role on par with
its troubled neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"There is a feeling that in Obama’s international
calculations, India is not that important," said
Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary and
ambassador to Washington. "The suspicion is
building up that Obama is not as keen on the
strategic partnership with India as George W.
Bush was. There is, underneath the surface, a
suspicion that the Americans are scared or too dependent on the Chinese."

Mr. Obama’s declining to meet the Dalai Lama in
Washington last month was also seen as evidence
that he was unwilling to offend China, never mind
that India barred foreign journalists from
covering the Dalai Lama’s visit to a disputed
Indian province in part to mollify China, which opposed the visit.

India and the United States grew closer than at
any time in their history during Mr. Bush’s
presidency, spurred in large part by a pact on
nuclear technology that tacitly legitimized
India’s nuclear weapons program and will allow
India to import technology to build much-needed
nuclear power plants. The Bush administration saw
democratic India as a natural counterweight to a rising autocratic China.

The Obama administration has been received more
coolly. While Mr. Bush saw India as a singular
and vital ally, Mr. Obama "has tended to use
Pakistan as the fulcrum of South Asia, and sees
India as one knotty strand in the Afghanistan
tangle," said a disapproving editorial in the
newspaper Indian Express on Monday.

Indeed, with the United States mired in the
Afghan war, and with Pakistan’s growing chaos
increasingly inseparable from the Afghan morass,
India worries that it will once again become
merely a variable in a very complicated regional equation.

In this context, what is seen as American
reluctance to confront China on tricky issues has
created the impression that the United States
worries more about its pragmatic interests with
China, to which it owes $800 billion, than
standing up for the values it shares with India,
analysts and former diplomats here said.

"His bowing before the emperor of Japan was an
act of courtesy," Mr. Mansingh said. "But his
bending over backwards before the Chinese was an act of appeasement."

These tensions in many ways predate both Mr. Bush
and Mr. Obama. India and the United States would
seem to be natural allies -- both are vast,
multiethnic and religiously diverse nations that
embraced democracy after throwing off the British
colonial yoke. Indeed, the United States was an
early supporter of Indian independence.

But the relationship has always been rocky, and
has foundered on precisely the same grounds:
India’s prickliness at being seen as anything but
a singular nation with a unique destiny. Cold war
politics put the United States solidly on the
side of Pakistan. India, under its first prime
minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was officially
neutral in the cold war but had socialist
leanings and a cozy relationship with the Soviet
Union. But India chafed at being defined by these ideologies.

Obama administration officials have taken pains
to paint the United States-India relationship as
essential and to be respectful of India’s separate path.

"The U.S.-Indian partnership is one of the real
keys to global order and global prosperity in the
21st century," declared William J. Burns, under
secretary of state for political affairs, in a
statement released after he visited India last month.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state,
went on an extensive visit to India in July,
making a point of visiting Mumbai and staying at
the Taj Palace Hotel, which was attacked by Pakistani terrorists last year.

Prime Minister Singh himself sought to play down
any disenchantment with the new administration.

"I have no apprehension that our relations with
the United States would in any way suffer because
of the change of administration," he told CNN’s
Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, and repeated his
oft-stated view that "India and China are not in competition."

China, meanwhile, has signaled that it has no
intention of playing a role in mediating India’s
longstanding quarrels with Pakistan. And despite
the joint statement issued at the end of Mr.
Obama’s visit, it has not expressed any interest
in getting involved in Pakistan’s domestic troubles.

Indeed, the relationship between India and the
United States encompasses so many spheres that it
is difficult to imagine any serious rupture,
analysts said. Beyond billions of dollars in
trade, there are millions of Indians and people
of Indian origin in the United States.

Since the attacks in Mumbai last November,
cooperation between Indian and American
intelligence and law enforcement agencies has
been growing, with each side providing the other
with vital information on terrorist threats and networks.

Salman Haidar, a former Indian foreign secretary,
said that the natural alliance between India and
the United States, frustrated for so long by
historic events, is now too strong to be shattered by perceived blunders.

"The exchanges till now between Obama and
Manmohan Singh have been very cordial and pointed
toward mutual appreciation and respect," he said.
"I think that there is a comfort level that has not been disturbed."
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